Aug 2000: Panama Cuppings, La Berlina

Panama Cuppings, La Berlina

We have a new Panama coffee that arrived last week. It is from the La Berlina Estate in the Boquete region, and rates alongside the finest Lerida Estate samples I have ever cupped. In fact, Lerida moved to a year-round production of which I am slightly suspicious (perhaps signaling the use of newer hybrid cultivars). While some Lerida mid-crop shipments are as seductive as ever, others that bear the Lerida name are acidy but simple. On the other hand, this Berlina is everything I could want from a Boquete coffee, even though I have passed over this one in past Panama cuppings. First impression upon brewing is that the coffee oozes with aroma, citrusy and fruity. It is both refreshing and complex, with alternating berry-like fruity flavors, basil and bittersweet. There’s a touch of wineyness, nothing like the heavier winey Kenyas. The aftertaste is not long-lived, but it suits the overall cup profile of a clean, nippy, bright Central American coffee.

It’s always fun to discover a diamond among the charcoal and this is the case with the Colombian Popayan Excelso. It is no pedigree: a non-estate lot of 16-17 screen coffee from the Southern Popayan district, a grade lower than Supremo and including peaberries. Many in the trade think Excelso can outperform Supremo in the cup due to the greater variety of coffee seeds in the preparation. In fact, larger Supremo size beans of 18+ screen may be simply swollen from too much rainfall at key growing times, and may not be from the higher altitudes which in many regions produce smaller, denser coffee seeds. In any case, this particular lot of Popayan Excelso is a lush, winey-fruity Colombian, with outstanding body and great resonance on the palate. It is notably different from the Tuluni and San Augustin Colombians, and is much more reminiscent of the Colombians from the prized Narino district. It is cheap, far too cheap when considering its cup quality.

We are out of Timor, Java Government Estate, and Aged Java. It is best to run out when a new crop year is imminent, as it is in these cases. Early shipments of the Indonesians tend to be good, whereas mid-crop shipments of the Central Americans tend to be best (of course these rules are begging to be broken). So we will await the September samples and go from there … Its far better we choose to run out than ever offer a potentially old coffee. Yes, green coffee lasts a long time but that logic only works of we, your green coffee supplier, prudently buys from new crop and current crop lots, and sell through our coffee quickly, As for the later, we do!

The new issue of Tiny Joy explains our cupping ratings in the Coffee Cupping Reviews at Mostly, it focuses on why so many coffees rate in the 80’s when we are using a 100 point scale. There IS a reason! I do enjoy comparing our cupping notes to other coffee sources. I find Coffee Review is a good source of information, and poetry. For example here is there review of Guatemalan Antigua La Tacita Estate (which we just received in stock at the shop):

Notes: La Tacita, one of Guatemala’s (and the world’s) finest coffees, is grown on the higher slopes of the Antigua valley.

Blind Assessment: Irrepressibly buoyant, superbly balanced. The acidity shimmers in the heart of a meadow of floral-toned sweetness. The aftertaste is clean, long, lavender. Exquisite, elegant, precious.

I wouldn’t debate that it is an excellent, balanced cup with good complexity. In the lighter roasts it is lavender (but doesnt have THAT long of an aftertaste), and roasted a bit further (a couple snaps into second crack) there are sharp chocolate notes that emerge. But it doesn’t make me … shimmer in a meadow … it is after all a cup of coffee, not a psychedelic drug. Anyway, I do think La Tacita is the best Antigua I have cupped this year, by the measure of a football field or two, and not by a mile. And you should pick up a pound of Panama La Berlina and taste them side by side; a very interesting comparison for two coffees from very different growing regions! Great Panamas are basically underrated, Guatemalan Antigua is perhaps not “overrated” but it is at least a bit hyperactively rated…

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